Grade schoolers helping – one family at a time

Every $5 raised means another potential family saved from deadly malaria.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:00am
  • News
Park Orchard Student Council members (left to right) Laura Tran

Park Orchard Student Council members (left to right) Laura Tran

Raising money for malaria nets

Every $5 raised means another potential family saved from deadly malaria.

That’s the thought running through the minds of Park Orchard Elementary School Student Council members this year, as they work to raise money to buy vital mosquito nets to protect the people of Uganda, Africa.

“I think it’s really important because we want to help a lot of kids who are in need and are not in a good position like we are,” said sixth-grader Teresita Romero, student body president. “We want to help other people. That’s our main goal.”

The Park Orchard student council has made a habit of helping others, organizing one local and one international fundraiser each year. This fall, the council led the rest of the student body in raising more than 3,000 items in a canned-food drive for local food banks. Then they set their sights overseas.

School counselor and council advisor Sharon Gangwish’s nephew, Wes Carter, currently is working with the Peace Corps at an orphanage in a small Ugandan village. He spread the word back to Kent of the malaria problem, sending his sister to Park Orchard to educate the student council.

Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in the world, according to non-profit organization Against Malaria Foundation. It kills at least 1.5 million people each year, 70 percent of those being children under 5. Malaria is carried by mosquitoes in tropical areas like Uganda, spreading the disease primarily at night.

Families can be protected from mosquitoes and the disease they carry by bed nets that block the pests and carry a powerful pesticide to kill them.

Assistant principal and student council advisor Christine Castillo said the students jumped at the fundraising idea.

“After they learned about the issue, they in turn went around to each and every classroom and gave a presentation on what is malaria, who does it effect, what are the nets and how they’re helpful and what they were going to do about it,” she said. “It’s something they’ve been really excited about.”

After spreading their knowledge around the school, the council began raising money. Writing a letter to WinCo Foods, Romero secured a $50 donation toward groceries from the store. The council organized snack cups with various treats and began selling them at school events — the school talent show, the all-school dance and the school carnival.

When the Seattle Mariners DREAM Team came for a school assembly, Romero saw another fundraising opportunity. She collected the players’ autographs on two balls, and the balls and pictures of the players were auctioned off to students and parents.

They’ve raised more than $500 for the cause, but Castillo says they prefer to think in terms of the number of nets they’ll be able to send to families this summer — more than 100 as of now. The council will send their fundraising total to the Against Malaria Foundation at the end of the school year, which will coordinate distribution of the nets.

“We just think it’s important for them to make a connection and a contribution to children outside of their world,” Castillo said. “It’s them realizing that it’s such a privilege just to have shelves stocked with books or a pencil or a piece of paper. It’s really powerful for them to realize their situation is really unique in the world.”

The students have made a strong connection with children in their beneficiary country. They have sent letters and stickers to Ugandan children through Peace Corps volunteer Carter and received several letters in return.

“A lot of us found that we had a lot of things in common,” Romero said. “It was really special to find that we had so many things in common with kids so far away. But a lot of them wrote back with really sad stories, too, like how they lost their parents from AIDS.”

The student body president said she’s loved being a part of the fundraiser, which provided her an opportunity to do something important.

“I’m really proud to be a part of this,” she said. “It’s really special to me because I never thought I’d be this important to people.”

To learn more about the fight against malaria, visit the Against Malaria Foundation Web site,

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